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Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2009 Apr;23(2):161-92. doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2009.01.003.

Joint aspiration and injection and synovial fluid analysis.

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Nottingham City Hospital, Nottingham, UK.


Joint aspiration/injection and synovial fluid (SF) analysis are both invaluable procedures for the diagnosis and treatment of joint disease. This chapter addresses: (1) the indications, the technical principles and the expected benefits and risks of aspiration and injection of intra-articular corticosteroid; and (2) practical aspects relating to SF analysis, especially in relation to crystal identification. Intra-articular injection of long-acting insoluble corticosteroids is a well-established procedure that produces rapid pain relief and resolution of inflammation in most injected joints. The knee is the most common site to require aspiration, although any non-axial joint is accessible for obtaining SF. The technique requires a knowledge of basic anatomy and should not be unduly painful for the patient. Provided sterile equipment and a sensible, aseptic approach are used, it is very safe. Analysis of aspirated SF is helpful in the differential diagnosis of arthritis and is the definitive method for diagnosis of septic arthritis and crystal arthritis. The gross appearance of SF can provide useful diagnostic information in terms of the degree of joint inflammation and presence of haemarthrosis. Microbiological studies of SF are the key to the confirmation of infectious conditions. Increasing joint inflammation is associated with increased SF volume, reduced viscosity, increasing turbidity and cell count, and increasing ratio of polymorphonuclear: mononuclear cells, but such changes are non-specific and must be interpreted in the clinical setting. However, detection of SF monosodium urate and calcium pyrophosphate dihydrate crystals, even from un-inflamed joints during intercritical periods, allow a precise diagnosis of gout and of calcium pyrophosphate crystal-related arthritis.

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